2011 Chicago Auto Show – Day 1 Impressions

Autoblog and Jalopnik both have detailed reports about the new vehicle introductions in Chicago so there’s no need for me to rehash it.  Unlike Jalopnik, I like the show (see their  latest post which is rather unflattering), and last year’s comments from Lunchbreath on Autoblog are so true it hurts.  What do i like about it?  I like the fact that there is space for cars AND people in each booth (unlike Detroit) and the hotel is attached to the show so you never have to deal with the weather (unlike LA where my walk last year seemed like 3 miles).  I also like the fact I will most likely not run into anyone I know so I can really concentrate on the vehicles.

The first thing i noticed is that several manufacturers set up ride and drive areas INSIDE the show.  Unlike Detroit where the electric car test loop was down in the basement, both of these were right there on the main floor.  And their execution could not have been more different.

Chevrolet brought springtime to Chicago which was no small task considering the wind chill is supposed to be around 20 below tonight.  The area was impecably landscaped, and the fresh smell of plants and flowers brough a smile to the face of the few I saw standing around the booth.  The environment also had a positive effect on my impression of the Volt.  Never have the polished wheels seemed brighter, nor has the bland exterior shape ever seemed more at home.  I felt like that scene in Happy Gilmore when he was in his “happy place” (caution, link is to a clip that is PG13).

On the other hand Toyota’s Test Track would be right at home on FailBlog.  I am assuming the idea was to demonstrate the capability of their products in the face of the recent quality issues (full disclosure here – I have never believed sudden acceleration claims and think Toyota got a raw deal in the press, but perhaps they could have handled it a bit better).  But bringing a construction theme onto the show floor means a couple of things.  First, all that raw lumber, construction barrels and heavy equipment makes it feel like you accidently walked into a closed off section of the show that hasn’t opened yet.  Also all that damp dirt smells like……. damp dirt.  Combine that with the smell of raw lumber and you have almost the exact opposite feeling at the “happy place” over at Chevrolet.

Jeep’s Test Track was set off to the very back of their hall and could easily be missed if you weren’ careful.  While not as elaborate as either Chevrolet’s or Toyota’s, it did include a substantial hill with which to demonstrate Jeep’s off-road prowess.  I can only imagine how memorable a steep ascent and descent like that would be to the uninitiated.

Ford’s test Track for the Explorer was another fail.  In fact, calling it a test track would be a stretch.  It was more like a teeter-totter on steroids.  The feeling of falling after reaching the halfway point might be exciting to those who love rollercoasters.  I cannot imagine the general public feels the same, as the looks on their faces was not confidence inspiring, even if they do have a new found appreciation for the AWD setup in the Explorer.

2011 Porsche Speedster

But as far as maximum impact for minumum dollars spent the winner has to be Porsche.  Even though they had no test track and their booth is the smallest there (its on par with the State Farm booth, smaller than the BP booth and only slightly larger than Airstream’s), it is front and center when you enter the South Hall, and their too blue to be true Speedster was awe-insiring.  Every time I passed there was a line looking at the car and waiting to get their hands on a Christophorus poster.

Hyundai's New Veloster Racer

 Come back tomorrow for a review of interiors, something we haven’t had a chance to do before.  Another thats another thing I like about Chicago, the chance to sit in all the vehicles at my leisure without having to wait in line or have people rushing me to get out!

About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of CarFriend.me and Advanced Automotive Consulting Services, partner in The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment and serial entrepeneur. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank started reading car magazines at the age of 8 and has spent 30+ years working inside the automotive industry. In his spare time Frank races with the Sports Car Club of America, spends time working on his numerous project cars and supports many local charities.
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